Chocolate Box pretty, but what’s inside?

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The packaging is often the first thing you notice when you spot something new on the shelves, and a product’s packaging tells you a lot about the company that it’s connected to. For instance: are they using a lot of single use plastic, is the packaging unnecessarily bulky in relation to its contents, does the writing on the packaging contain helpful information about the company and its products, and what does the written information say about the ingredients used, especially in edible products? But there is a lot of other stuff to consider if you really want to understand if the company is running their business ethically, for instance how they source their raw materials, how their business impacts the natural environment, and how they treat their workers. If you visit the wonderful The Green Stars Project site, you will see that consumers (you and me) are encouraged to submit reviews using an amended version of the gold star rating system found on many retailer’s and review sites, by including a green star rating system based on social and environmental impact.

The product I chose for this purpose is Beyer’s Craft Gin Truffles, produced by Beyer’s Chocolates here in South Africa. I wanted to review a local product rather than imported, and chocolate seemed like a good idea, because when isn’t chocolate a good idea?! I had planned to post this on the shopping site PriceCheck.co.za, but I couldn’t find my chosen product for review on their stock list, so I decided to blog about it instead. Here then is the review:

 

 

 

 

 

Beyers Chocolates: Craft Gin Truffles, milk and dark chocolate

Ratings: (3.5/5 Gold stars*) /  (3/5 Green stars*)

Love the dark chocolate specially. Wish they had valid certification and less plastic. 3/5 green stars.
  • The box contains 9 chocolate balls in 3 varieties. Pretty, handmade chocs. All deliciously flavourful, although I found the Cranberry and Honeybush filling too sweet, and the milk chocolate outer generally a bit sweet. My favourite is the Classic Gin&Tonic filling, surrounded by rich dark chocolate.  The product is well priced, especially if compared to imported products of the same quality. The packaging is very attractive: a simple cardboard box, decorated with florals and other botanicals, although I didn’t like the thin plastic film that went over it. I checked the ingredients list and noticed that they stated merely ‘flavouring’ as one of their ingredients, so I went on to their website to find out more. The website states that they use no artificial colours or flavours, and that none of their ingredients are chemically treated. This is a big plus for me.

 

 

  • In terms of ethical rating, I like the fact that this is a local product,crafted in South Africa. The company’s website describes a very good record of CSR in terms of creating employment within their company and supporting ongoing training in the food and beverage industry outside of the company. In terms of their trading they state that: “Beyers Chocolates only works with companies that ensure a 100% sustainable cocoa supply chain. Our supply base invests in programmes that empower cocoa farmers by providing improved access to agricultural training and other support services. Additionally, the sustainability initiatives help to generate income for these farmers and their families, whilst also safeguarding the environment.” They also support the Amarula Elephant Research Programme, which studies elephant behaviour and develops conservation management strategies. All this considered, I am disappointed to see that they have no visible valid Certification: nothing stating Fair Trade or Organic and nothing regarding their cocoa supply chain. I found this disappointing, and found myself reluctant to award a high Green Stars rating because I felt I needed more confirmation of their position/ status. If they do have certification, I failed to find it on their website or see it on their packaging information.

 

  • I found that their packaging is sub-standard on a couple of things: They haven’t included any information about what ‘flavourings’ they use and whether they are natural or artificial, and I had to go onto their website for this. There is also no information regarding the packaging materials used and whether they are recyclable or compostable. I also feel that they could have included more interesting and pertinent information about some of their ‘green’ commitments and achievements, such as previous awards for providing learnership and employment opportunities. Regarding their packaging, I was quite shocked on opening the box to find that each chocolate ball was contained in a separate envelope of see-through plastic, and that in fact everything could have fitted comfortably into a box around half the size. The wasteful packaging and the amount of cheap looking, single use plastic was a big disappointment for me, both from a Gold Star and a Green Star perspective.

 

  • Another big no-no for me is that sadly the product contains palm oil. I can find nothing on their packaging or on their website that explains how they source this: sustainably or otherwise.

 

  • In conclusion, I would love to award this company a high score because there is a lot that they are getting right. However considering the fact that they have no certification, their poor packaging and labelling, including a lot of single use plastic, and their use of palm oil which is not marked as sustainable, left me awarding them a 3/5 Green Stars rating. For their Gold Stars I have considered that I enjoyed the dark chocolate option the best (that’s 3 out of the 9 chocolates), and that even though the box was very pretty it also contained cheap looking packaging inside. For this I have awarded them 3.5/5 Gold Stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to make friends with a Venomous Garden Spider (and would you want to)

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Free Photo. Source: Pexels

When I spied this poisonous Brown Button spider and her eggs clinging to the underside of a piece of garden furniture, I felt a strong pull of sympathy and fascination and less of the horror and alarm that some might expect. I even felt a bit guilty for not having noticed her when I initially pulled the chair away from it’s normal shady spot two days ago, and placed it on the lawn in the baking hot sun where it has been  ever since. Waiting to be scrubbed clean along with some other pieces of garden equipment. (We will get round to that). I felt a distinct sense of kinship with this spider mother who was after all, just trying to give her kids a home and fighting chance in a harsh world, and here I come along and spoil the whole plan by exposing them, belly side up, to the blazing summer sun and the possibility of predators, such as certain birds.

 

 

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I have come across venomous spiders before in Johannesburg gardens, and I knew by sight that this one was not severely venomous. It’s the Black Button (Widow) that you’ve really got to be careful of: typically a bite from one of those results in a hospital admission and having your vital signs measured for about 24 hours. A bite from the Brown Button is less severe and more localised, and symptoms in a healthy adult will normally clear up within a few days. Button Spiders will only attack if threatened; not exactly the vicious predators they are sometimes made out to be.

 

Well anyway, there we were: myself, the spider and her little brood of two, with me wondering what to do next. A nice photograph of the little family seemed appropriate, so I leaned in slowly with my phone and clicked. She immediately darted into her nest, which you can clearly see in the above pic: it’s the pocket shaped mass to the right of the photo, with her balancing at the mouth. Pleased with my nicely detailed close-up, and feeling somewhat bonded with this little trio, I felt inclined to offer them some shelter, so I lifted the chair (easy enough; its made of a light plastic) and moved the whole lot into a shady spot on the patio.

 

And that’s where we are now. But the harder part comes later, because clearly a decision will have to be made. We are encouraged to ‘get rid’ of poisonous creatures from our homes and gardens, and that can mean different things to different people. So when my husband gets home later from an undoubtedly long and hard day, we will still have a little date with Mother Nature to attend to.

 

 

For more on spiders and snakes in South Africa:

http://www.arc.agric.za/arc-ppri/Pages/Biosystematics/Spider%20Research%20Centre/Venomous-Spiders-Neurotoxic-venom.aspx

 

https://www.news24.com/Travel/Guides/Bush/Beware-Snakes-and-spiders-to-watch-out-for-20130814

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Friday: where is YOUR money going this time?

 

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I have stayed away from the shops today, and I will not be going online to look for Black Friday deals. Yesterday on a local radio station the guest for the morning was a representative from SADAG, Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. She invited listeners to go to the SADAG website and make a donation. “Do Something Memorable This Black Friday: Save A Life”, says their Welcome Page. I went ahead and made my online donation, pleased to know that my contribution is enough to cover their costs for telephone counselling for 10 people in need over the holiday period, or any other time.

 

Amongst its many services to thousands of South Africans in need, the group manages a crisis and referral call-in centre, managed by volunteers. One of the things she discussed was the rise in numbers of calls that they can expect over the upcoming holiday season. For many people, whether they live with mental illness or not, Christmas brings stress, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and a sense of being unable to cope.

 

 

And even amongst the luckiest of us, who doesn’t feel like skipping Christmas sometimes?! I consider myself fortunate to have friends and family to spend time with over Christmas, but it can feel like a lot of hard work and sometimes an ‘alternative’ Christmas, one that you can appreciate on your terms, sounds like the way to go. Like watching series for the day, on the couch, on your own, with just the dog and the cat for company. Or floating in the pool with a glass of bubbly or a cocktail (Southern Hemisphere Christmas has that kind of climate, so we have the advantage on this one 😉 ). Or just being able, guilt-free, to turn down that lunch invitation because you just don’t feel like it! How many of us get THAT one right? …. Or how about donating your time for the day to a good cause? Five years ago my husband and I spent the day helping prepare  and serve a Christmas lunch for a special needs group. Thing is, there is always more than one way of spending our time and our hard earned money, whether its for Christmas or for Black Friday. So maybe spend a little on a good cause. Its worth the effort, and you will feel the better for it 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you just want to have fun

 

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Image by Pexel

I treated myself to a few online purchases recently: 3 movies, 1 series and 3 books. Part of the fun is that sense of happy anticipation while I await my order and that Yes! feeling I get when the parcel arrives and I just know that the wait was worth it. Now there’s the fun of looking forward to indulging in my new purchases in the weeks or months to come, when the time is right. The books are for my husband, while I now have two covetable classics: ‘The Misfits’ and ‘Roman Holiday’, and ‘Luther’ an historical drama to enjoy over the holidays. We have already started watching ‘Borgen’, a Danish political drama from the popular Nordic Noir series, which we love, subtitles and all.

 

Then there are the spontaneous, unplanned ways to have fun, when opportunities suddenly pop up and you find you’ve been gifted with a little surprise. This afternoon for example, following several days of dry, baking heat, the clouds started to gather overhead and I lay, flat out on a patch of lawn as a few tiny, delicious drops of cooling rain came softly down. I rolled around a bit on the cool grass, full length, from side to side, reminded of childhood days when my siblings and I would play at tumbling down the grassy slope near our house, laughing all the way. After a few minutes I got up and went back inside feeling quite refreshed and revived after my little brush with nature. Speaking of unplanned fun (and nostalgia), a few weeks ago I switched on the TV in the middle of a weekday (not my usual routine) to test whether the remote was working, and Lo and Behold, there was a re-run of an episode of Magnum PI… Tom Selleck, shorts and botanicals printed shirt and all! I couldn’t resist. I used to love watching Magnum PI in the 80’s. I ended up watching the best part of a full hour while I did the week’s ironing. True nostalgia…and loads of fun 🙂

 

There must be as many ways to have fun as there are people on the planet, considering that we all come with our individual likes and dislikes, available resources, and whether we are aged 6 or 60. Then of course we get fun on different scales, like the big overseas trip which you’ve been planning for ages, or fun on a tiny scale such as a quick game of Soduko on your phone to see if you can beat your previous score. We all sometimes need a break, a distraction, from the everyday, the ordinary, and the things that have become frustrating and infuriating. We need fun for our peace of mind and to help us keep a sense of perspective in our lives and also just, well, for fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The history of plastic, and why it matters

 

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In my garden: Indigenous South African Clivias

 

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“We made it. We depend on it. We’re drowning in it”. This is the opening statement of an article on plastic in the June 2018 edition of National Geographic. The statistics, facts and figures come hard and fast, the kind of worrying information that we’ve become accustomed regarding the impact of plastic waste on our environment. “How did we get here? When did the dark side of the miracle of plastic first show itself?” is one of the questions raised. And it is significant that something once regarded as a ‘miracle”, a solution to many of our problems, is now demonized to the point that in 2013, scientists writing for Nature magazine declared that disposable plastic should be classified as a hazardous material.

The history of plastic matters because it reminds us of how our individual and global needs are often met by technology, and how plastic did and still does offer many vital and positive uses.

 

Laura Parker, who wrote the article, presents some interesting facts and background information. As far back as the 19th Century, we see the noble beginnings of plastic in its very early use in the form of a celluloid (derived from plant cellulose) billiard ball, designed as an alternative to the original billiard ball which at that stage was made of a scarce natural material: elephant ivory. Many years later there are untold numbers of ways in which plastic has featured in ours lives and influenced world events. World War 2 in the 20th Century was war on a whole new level, with the aid of nylon parachutes and lightweight airplane parts. Since then plastic has helped us to make great strides in areas as diverse as medicine and medical apparatus, travel by road, air and into outer space, and even the now-hated plastic water bottle, used to deliver clean drinking water to people in poor rural areas.

 

The Darker side of plastic crept in perhaps as more and more uses were discovered, and cheaper manufacturing processes were realised. In the early 20th Century the ”plastic revolution” took hold, as chemists discovered that they could create plastics even more cheaply and abundantly by using the waste gases emitted by petroleum oil refineries. It seemed that anything and everything could be made from plastic, with the added benefit that it was cheap to do so. A whole new world of possibilities had opened up and in 1955 a photograph in Life magazine appeared, titled ‘Throwaway Living’ featuring an American family celebrating the convenience of plastic cutlery, plates and cups. Single use plastics were already becoming a thing.

 

Quoting directly from the article: ” Six decades later, roughly 40 percent of the now more than 448 million tons of plastic produced every year is disposable, much of it used as packaging intended to be discarded within minutes after  purchase. Production has grown at such a breakneck pace that virtually half the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years……The growth of plastic production has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up: that’s why the oceans are under assault. ”

 

It is important to note is that all plastics cannot be arbitrarily labelled as ‘bad”. In many of it’s forms it fills essential functions and continues to save lives daily. On a positive note it is worth remembering that the plastic waste issue is gaining attention and that genuine efforts are being made to address the problem by individuals, corporations and whole countries. May this move continue from strength to strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Reuse: the beauty of upcycling

 

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In my garden: winter annual Pansies

 

“There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere.” – Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

 

Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value. (wikipedia)

 

RECREATE is an interior design studio based in Cape Town, South Africa, where they specialise in turning “trash into treasure”. By salvaging worn out or otherwise unwanted items from various sources including homes, warehouses and rubbish tips, they source discarded pieces which are then upcycled into beautiful new creations with a brand new purpose. Nothing goes to waste, and even their packaging materials, labels and business cards are reused, recycled and repurposed.

 

 

 

Read here for more on Recreate’s commitment to their craft and feast your eyes on some of their gorgeous creations.

 

In 2018 the market is abundant with beautiful and innovative designs, excellent craftsmanship and the reuse of  unusual and unexpected items such as fridges, bicycles, and kitchen sinks. And with a few tools at home and an inclination towards DIY you may even surprise yourself! Here and here are some fun and inspired ideas on creative upcycling at home.